Micromobility took a huge hit during the pandemic. Just as the trend towards the use of shared e-scooters and bicycles was starting to boom, COVID-19 stamped out these gains with an estimated 60% drop in usage.
But micromobility is back on the agenda, particularly the use of e-scooters, which are set to play an important role in future fleet provision as part of fleet mobility packages - which would also include train, car rental, bus and shared cycles - in preference to the provision of a company car.
Management consultant McKinsey & Company suggests that, despite the COVID-19 setback, the long-term popularity of e-scooters and the like will increase, with kilometers traveled up by 10% between now and 2030.
In the UK, private e-scooters are illegal unless licensed - although by the number of e-scooter riders on the roads and their wide availability from retailers there appears to be little actual restriction on this.
However, London is undertaking a 12 month e-scooter trial to assess their viability with a number of local councils, whose number will expand during the summer months.
It has been organised by Transport for London (TfL), the capital’s integrated transport authority, with a major focus on safety, including ‘first ride policies’. So, before hiring an e-scooter for the first time, riders must undertake an e-learning safety course, while lowered maximum speeds are also in place for their first ride.
The trial is running through three operators: Dott, which manages more than 20,000 e-scooters in 15 major cities; San Francisco-headquartered Lime, which recently bought Uber’s Jump e-bike and scooter business; and TIER, the Berlin-based shared micromobility provider, which operates in more than 110 cities across 13 countries in Europe and the Middle East.
E-scooter rentals are being priced between £3.25 and £3.40 for a 15-minute ride – a price point designed to discourage joy-riding - and can only be ridden on roads. There is also an unlocking fee.
TfL says the rental e-scooters offer a number of benefits over private e-scooters which make them more suitable for a trial on London’s streets: these include always-on lights, GPS controlled parking and no-go zones - meaning they can only be parked in specified locations not obstructing the pavement and cannot be taken in certain areas, such as tunnels - and a unique identification number on every vehicle.
In addition the maximum speed has been lowered to 12.5mph, below the national 15.5mph limit, and the wheels are larger in diameter - 12 inches - designed to ensure they can navigate some of the less than smooth road surfaces around London.
“As we look to our capital’s future, we want to ensure a green and sustainable recovery from the pandemic,” comments Will Norman, London’s Walking & Cycling Commissioner. “We know that a huge portion of car journeys in London are for very short distances, and we want to explore how e-scooters can act as an innovative alternative. E-scooters have been on our streets for some time now but with very little regulation. This trial will have safety at its heart, bringing in rigorous precautions and parking measures while taking the needs of all road users into account and seeing what role e-scooters can play in London’s future.”
Certainly there has been some concern over e-scooter misuse. Another trial which was launched in Coventry last year with Sweden’s Voi as the operator was halted after just five days, following serious concerns about e-scooters being ridden in pedestrianised areas. The trial has now been restarted but within a more contained area.
Abuse is one concern about e-scooter micromobility success; another is environmental impact. Although e-scooters do not produce any CO2 at the point of use, which can help to promote cleaner air in the places they are deployed, the typical service life is only between two to five months, after which point they are scrapped. Clearly this is an environmental impact which will become progressively worse as e-scooter deployment and usage increases.
Researchers from WMG, University of Warwick, where e-scooter usage has been successfully trialed, will seek to increase e-scooter service life from three months to three years in collaboration with leading e-scooter companies.
Dr Roger Woodman, from WMG, University of Warwick, explains:
“Thanks to funding from WMG centre High Value Manufacturing Catapult, we are able to take a human factors approach to look at how e-scooters are constructed and operated, to find areas for improvement in both the service and vehicle design, to increase their usable lifespan and make them more eco-friendly.
“This massive increase of the average service life has the potential to greatly reduce environmental impact and make e-scooters a truly sustainable form of transport.”
Despite the damage of ‘scooter churn’, e-scooters are being recognised as a sustainable and quiet transportation mode, particularly as commuters look for alternatives to public transport post pandemic. And with cities looking to positively discourage car entry and promote better urban air quality, micromobility in the form of e-scooters looks a likely part of the fleet management suite of options in any future employee mobility package.